IGN have conducted an interview with Tai Yasue, the co-director of the Kingdom Hearts series, regarding the making of Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance]. Yasue explains the creation of the game, as well as how it ties into Kingdom Hearts III. You can read it below.
A short sentence at the end of the interview spoils the game, so we have blacked this out for you. Feel free to read it below without risk of spoilers (and highlight this part if you want to read it).
TY: My first Kingdom Hearts I started with was Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, that was maybe seven years ago. After that, we worked on Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, and then our current title, Kingdom Hearts 3D. So this is my third title working on the series. I also did a lot of the planning for Re:coded as well.
IGN: Broadly speaking, what was the overall vision for Kingdom Hearts 3D? What kind of journey did you want to take players on?
TY: Well, when Nomura came up with the original design document, I think he wanted to have the story revolve around Riku a bit, and the Mark of Mastery. I think he really wanted to connect the story, working on 3D, to the next Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts 2. So I think there was a lot of secrets revealed in the story of 3D.
For me as a game designer, a real time game designer, I really wanted to do something that would sort of give the players a glimpse of the future, with action-based functionality, kicking walls, sliding down ramps, you could spin around poles and stuff. I really wanted to do something that was more aggressive and more speedy. I think we were able to do that with 3D.
IGN: And what was it like developing a Kingdom Hearts game specifically for the 3DS hardware? Are there any specific features or capabilities you were excited to use?
TY: I was really excited about using the bottom view, the touch screen. And so we implemented the reality shift system. Nomura-san wanted us to make something that really integrated the bottom view with the top view, so it wasn't really just a reference map. He wanted you to actually play with it. And so we came up with the reality shift system, which you could use for each world. There's a unique system for each world. For example, in the Musketeer world, there's a comic book, and you can touch the comic book to actually deal blows to your enemies. For Tron Legacy, you could decode your enemies and control them. So I think that aspect really gave each world of 3D a unique gaming experience, a unique feel.
IGN: How did the idea for the drop system come about? And what do you think the idea of forcing players to switch between characters adds to the experience?
TY: Well, on our previous Kingdom Hearts, Birth by Sleep, it centered around Aqua, Ventus, and Terra. You had to actually finish the story before starting a new one. It sort of felt like they were separate stories, in a way. This time, Nomura I think wanted us to make it into a sort of united story. There are two characters, but it's a united experience. We wanted to add a particular thrill, I think, the thrill of… uIf you drop during a boss battle, for example, you have to switch characters. So there's a little bit of a time limit. I think it was a little bit more thrilling. Another thing we wanted to add was the bonus relay system, we wanted Sora and Riku to cooperate. For example, by playing Sora and gaining points, you could give bonuses to your next character, Riku. There was a strategic depth to it, I think. I thought that made it interesting as well.
IGN: Were there any difficulties that the drop system caused during development, particularly in regards to the game’s flow and pacing?
SE: The pacing was really difficult. I think the drop system's one of the things that was most difficult about making the game. The first time we made it, a lot of our development team really didn't like it, so we actually changed it. We made it so that you could actually drop whenever you wanted via the camp menu system. When you press start you can choose when to drop. That made it a bit more user-friendly. But then after that, the quality assurance people and the development team really liked it. So in a way, yeah, it was changed and we tweaked it a lot to make it the way it is now, to make it work.
IGN: How did you go about selecting which Disney and game worlds to include in the game? And once you decided, how did you make sure they all meshed together?
TY: Actually, I think each world has its own reason for being. We proposed, for example, the Musketeer one because we wanted something for Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. They weren't wearing costumes, it was a different sort of aspect of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. We thought that might be interesting. Or the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I think we had a lot of user input, a lot of our users wanted that world to be made. I think it was a really popular Disney movie, so we did that. Also, for Tron Legacy, I think we wanted something that was a bit more futuristic. When you list all the worlds off, each has its own characteristics. Tron added to that, I think. It was more futuristic, it was a bit more real than the other worlds. I thought that might be interesting as well.
IGN: Was it hard to make them feel like they all belonged together?
TY: Well, not really. One of the great things about Kingdom Hearts is that each world has its own unique characteristics. There is one story that unites it all, but in the same way, I think the different characteristics really shine through. So there's a lot of variety.
IGN: How did it come about that characters from The World Ends With You were included in Kingdom Hearts 3D?
TY: Well, that was because of Nomura, to be honest. But by adding it, I think Traverse Town was really... we altered it a bit, made it really interesting. A lot of graffiti, and some of the buildings sort of resemble Shibuya now. I think it made Traverse a little bit different from previous games. That added to the newness and freshness of the game.
IGN: Now that the game is complete, what aspect of the finished product are you most proud of?
TY: Well, there's a lot. I really like the flow motion. By kicking walls, sliding down ramps, you could really make dynamic actions. And all of the actions are really connected to your attacks and everything else. I think that gives the game a new feel. And we adjusted our enemies and our maps accordingly for that. For Kingdom Hearts 3D I think you'll see a lot more maps that are wider, higher, there's a lot more hidden treasures along the way. I think that was really popular with the Japanese audience.
IGN: Speaking of the free-flowing combat, how did that come about?
TY: Nomura wanted us to make something where you felt very free, that was free of restrictions. I planned it out over maybe two or three days, and we actually built it on the Birth By Sleep system first. It only took about two or three weeks. I think we did that maybe in November of 2010, it was really quick. By developing that, I think our team really understood what we wanted to make. Our direction. I think that really sped things up.
IGN: What's your recommendation for gamers who've never played a Kingdom Hearts game before? Are there other games in the series you think are important to play before Dream Drop Distance? Or can they jump right in and figure it out?
TY: I guess if you played Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep and one and two, it might add a lot. But for Kingdom Hearts 3D, we added the memento system. When you earn a memento after an event or a cutscene, you can open it up in the camp menu and it actually tells you the story of Kingdom Hearts one and two and Birth By Sleep, for example. So you could just jump in if you want. But if you really want to understand everything, all the detail, I think you should play Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep and the first two games.
IGN: What's next for Sora and Riku?
TY: We get that a lot. [laughs] We're still thinking about it. I think 3D is really a hint to the future in a way. We developed it as if it were a console game. We made it for the handheld, but for us it was meant to feel like a console game in a way. I think it really took the Kingdom Hearts series to the next level, it feels like Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep on steroids. It's really insane what you can do. So I'm not really in a position to say what we could next, but... 3D, for us, was the future.
IGN: I have one final question. I know you can't say too much about it, but what can you tell us about Kingdom Hearts 3D tying in to Kingdom Hearts 3?
TY: In a way, the action and the story are directly linked to Kingdom Hearts 3. I guess that's about all I can say, really.
IGN: So definitely play this if you're interested in Kingdom Hearts 3?
TY: If you play it all, it's really connected to Kingdom Hearts 3. The Mark of Mastery exam and how Riku becomes a Keyblade Master, it connects to the next story.